Wingnuts’ new 2016 hero? Marsha Blackburn is perfect!

She plays fast and loose with facts and has no legislation to her name, but that just makes her a normal Republican

By Joan Walsh
Published April 14, 2014 5:25PM (EDT)
  (Jeff Malet,
(Jeff Malet,

Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn is having a moment, of sorts. An anonymous aide told Real Clear Politics last week that she was going to New Hampshire to “test the waters” for a 2016 presidential run. And why not? Blackburn would be the only woman in the race (so far), and she’s no worse than the rest of the oft-mentioned male candidates.

She’s no better, either, despite being floated as someone who might help Republicans with skeptical women voters. Blackburn, you’ll recall, became the public face of the House GOP’s 20-week abortion ban last year when Rep. Trent Franks said the bill didn’t exempt cases of rape because “the incidence of pregnancy from rape is very low.” She had earlier become a GOP hero for insisting on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that women “didn’t want” pay equity laws.  “I’ve always said that I didn’t want to be given a job because I was a female, I wanted it because I was the most well-qualified person for the job,” she told David Gregory. “And making certain that companies are going to move forward in that vein, that is what women want.” In fact, women overwhelmingly want pay equity, and they support laws to achieve it, according to public opinion polls.

Now that pay equity is back in the news, thanks to Democrats pushing the Paycheck Fairness Act, Blackburn is in demand again. She told CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday that “we’re all for equal pay.” But the GOP supports neither the Paycheck Fairness Act nor the minimum wage, which would hugely help women, who make up two-thirds of minimum wage workers. “I would love for women to be focused on maximum wage,” Blackburn bizarrely explained. She went on to insist “I have fought to be recognized with equality for a long time. A lot of us get tired of guys condescending to us.”

This is what Republicans hope they can reduce this debate to: complaining about “guys condescending to us,” not guys being paid more, or guys paying less for insurance (as they did before the Affordable Care Act) or guys making laws that tell women what they can do with their bodies.

Appearing at the Freedom Summit in New Hampshire, Blackburn tried out the idea that it’s actually Democrats who are condescending to women.

“Women aren’t a cheap date,” she told conservatives there. “Women want a little bit more out of life than contraceptives.” Describing women as any kind of “date,” whether cheap or expensive, seems condescending to me, but I’m not a Republican woman.

You’ve almost got to feel sorry for Republicans, they seem so clueless about what to do about their problem with female voters. The Associated Press has a story today about a new GOP strategy to court women, which comes down to encouraging male politicians to feature their wives and daughters in campaign ads, and something weirdly called “14 in ’14,” to recruit and train women under 40 to spread the GOP message in the last 14 weeks of the 2014 midterm campaign. That’s not recruiting and training women candidates, mind you, just some young women who will hit the campaign trail in the home stretch on behalf of predominantly male candidates.

It’s worth noting that although Blackburn served in Congress when the GOP held the House, the Senate and the White House, the single piece of legislation I could find that she had signed into law was the Wool Suit Fabric Labeling Fairness and International Standards Conforming Act of 2006. She has also successfully sponsored resolutions renaming various Tennessee Post Office buildings as well as (to her credit) one honoring the late Issac Hayes.

None of that would likely hurt her in the GOP primaries, where Rep. Michele Bachmann and pizza magnate Herman Cain briefly held leads back in 2012.

A Blackburn run isn’t a done deal; a communications staffer denied that she was considering it. “She is running to represent the people of the TN 7th Congressional district,” Darcy Anderson told the Daily Caller.  It’s also hard for House members of either party or gender to run for the White House, as they mostly lack a fundraising base and must also run for reelection every two years. Still, I wouldn’t count Blackburn out.

The GOP might be well-served by having a woman at the top of the ticket, at a time when their top priority is a massive transfer of income away from women and back to men, by repealing ACA provisions prohibiting charging women more for insurance. Somebody’s got to sell that platform, and it wouldn’t be the first time a terrible, thankless job got foisted on a woman.

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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2016 Elections Marsha Blackburn Pay Equity Republican Party Women's Vote